Music

Aaron Frazer on Avoiding ‘Whiplash’ With New Eclectic Album: ‘I Am Still Me in Every Context’

Over three years into his solo career, Aaron Frazer is about to embark on his first headlining tour. Frazer – the drummer and vocalist for soul outfit Durand Jones & The Indications – released his first solo album Introducing… in January of 2021 when touring options were limited due to COVID-19 restrictions and only managed to fit in a few opening gigs with fellow retro-enthusiasts Black Pumas

For his sophomore set Into the Blue (out today via Dead Oceans), Frazer will support the new record across nearly 30 dates and multiple countries – a challenge he’s nervous, but ready to accept.  

“At this point in people’s careers, if they’re the front person up there without an instrument in their hands they have probably been doing it since they were a kid,” Frazer tells Billboard. “And I’ve spent a lot of time on my butt … behind a drum kit.” 

But Frazer isn’t entirely untested as a headliner. His booking team floated the idea of a one-off show at the iconic Troubadour in Los Angeles (the city he now calls home) for February and, within minutes of onsale, it was sold out. The team added two more nights around the city including The Lodge Room and The Paramount in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, both of which also sold out.  

“It moved really quick, which was cool, man,” says Frazer. “I don’t think anywhere in the world has my back the way L.A. has my back.” 

Tonight, he’ll celebrate the release of Into the Blue at The Wiltern, which has a larger capacity than his Threepeat run combined, and will formally introduce his loyal audience to the 10-track collection that showcases an even wider range of Frazer’s talents. Following his heavily soul-focused debut, Into the Blue takes the listener from 1950s pop of “Perfect Strangers” to the ‘90s R&B-styled “Fly Away,” along with boleros-inspired Spanish-language track “Dime.” While the genres sound disparate, Frazer and co-producer Alex Goose manage to ground the album in Frazer’s slick drumming and signature falsetto.  

Billboard caught up with Frazer prior to his album release gig to discuss growing into a frontman, his love for hip-hop and how he manages to create cohesion as a “genre-agnostic” artist. 

Into the Blue takes you into even more genres than before with ‘90s R&B, 1950s/1960s rock’n’roll and, of course, soul. How do you make all these genres sound cohesive on one album? 

I am extremely eclectic in my listening, but for some people I did want to avoid the feeling of whiplash. Finding these through-lines that you can weave together to make it a more cohesive listening experience. So, like, Italian film score, some of the spaghetti western stuff. Ennio Morricone was a big influence on this record, and David Axelrod. Both Morricone and Axelrod, you have these big operatic background vocals, but then you also have very tough drums – very breakbeat-oriented drums. For me, it is keeping the drums tough throughout.  

For example, the opening track “Thinking of You” — I was listening to a lot of Black Ivory from Harlem when I was writing that. The true period take would be to actually dial back the drums a little bit, but I wanted to push the drums a little bit more forward so that it can also blend with a song like “Dime” which is part Little Beaver and part Kali Uchis. So, yeah, tough drums, the background vocals and I am still me in every context. That is also the tie that binds. 

Speaking of “Dime” featuring Cancamusa, what made you want to add Spanish-language vocals to this track? 

I was working with a Spanish co-writer. I had this beat that I had made in collaboration with Alex Goose, my co-producer, as well as Robin Hannibal from Rhye. We put this track together and it had this smooth, intimate romance to it and Spanish is such a romantic language – it literally is a romance language. It felt like the right context for a Spanish-speaking artist. I wrote the lyrics with a writer named Sofia Lafluente, and she brought the Spanish perspective to that. I love being able to shine a spotlight on other artists, whether it is with my production or if it’s on my own social media. So much of the soul audience that I have is Spanish-speaking, and I wanted to show respect to the culture and bring a Spanish-speaking artist onto the track. 

Your career has been heavily influenced by older soul music. What drew you to that music? 

I’ve always felt genre agnostic. Hip-hop for me has always been at the core of my musical DNA. That’s how I learned soul music in the first place. The first CD I ever owned was Big Willie Style by Will Smith. I wish it was a cooler album. [Laughs] You get what you get when you’re a kid. But on that record there is “Just the Two of Us” which is a Bill Withers interpolation and the “Men in Black” rap which is Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots.”  

From the jump, my introduction to soul music was filtered through hip-hop. It’s always been part of how I’ve understood music. Every hip-hop record draws multiple lines outward to other records across generations. So, here’s a drum break from the ‘60s. Here’s a soul sample from the ‘70s. There’s a jazz piano snippet. That’s the core of my musical philosophy. All these genres and different decades, it’s all just one thing. 

Despite the depth of genres and instruments you introduce on the album, the tracks never sound cluttered. How do accomplish that? 

It definitely takes a lot of work the more elements you put in. A lot of my musical heroes are good at exactly that. Curtis Mayfield builds these huge arrangements but they’re never like, “Whoa! Okay, I get it.” It’s never overbearing. Lee Hazlewood is another one that I come back to a lot. He’s making country music but there’s a toughness to it and his arrangements are just cavernous. A lot of it comes down to the part arranging and being able to see when everything fits. There’s a call and response to create a conversation between the elements. That’s what it is a lot of the times. 

You had a very successful Threepeat run of shows in Los Angeles earlier this year, but now you’re going on a full headlining tour. What can fans expect? 

I have a drummer who signed on for this tour who also sings background and plays percussion. So, when I’m on the kit, he’ll be on percussion and background vocals and then when I go up front, he’ll be on the drums. 

So, unlike previous gigs, you’re going to be even more of a frontman. How does that feel? 

It feels naked. It feels like a fever dream where you walk on stage without your pants on. It is fun, but it is a challenge. It requires a certain amount of bravery. I’m learning as I go, but I’m looking forward to this opportunity to experiment with abandon. That’s something I admire so much about Durand as a front person – his sense of abandon, his freedom on stage.

I also need to figure out who I am as a front person. I don’t come out of the James Brown school of frontmanship. It would be weird if I did. Smokey Robinson had his own kind of stage presence that is more demure. Or Curtis Mayfield, his stage presence was interesting because he held a guitar for a lot of it, which is nice. When I have a guitar in my hand, I’m like, “Okay, I’m safe. I’m good. I have something to do with my limbs.” 

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